Article published on the 2009-10-20 Latest update 2009-10-20 17:07 TU
Afghan president Hamid Karzai and his main opponent Abdullah Abdullah will both take part in a second round run-off on 7 November to elect a new president. The run-off takes place after a fraud investigation revealed Karzai's share of the vote in the first round had fallen to below 50 per cent.
US President Barack Obama said Karzai's decision to take part in a second round run-off was an important precedent for Afghan democracy. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown added that the president's decision showed statesmanlike leadership.
Etienne de Durand of the French Institute of International Relations, IFRI, says it is difficult to predict how many Afghans will turn out to vote in two weeks time.
"In many parts of the country where people are too insecure or difficult to reach, there will be a low turnout," he explains. "But in the big cities, although they are disillusioned with the process and Karzai and maybe even with democracy they still want to express their opinions."
The UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) had confirmed massive fraud in the August 20 election, raising the prospect that Karzai will be forced into a second round run-off or have to forge a unity government.
The ECC late Monday threw out ballots from 210 polling stations after finding "clear and convincing evidence" of fraud, including entire ballot boxes with papers filled in with the same pen or same mark.
Independent monitors said the ECC's order had invalidated 1.3 million votes -- about a quarter of the total cast in an election already marred by low turnout owing to Taliban violence.
Most of the ballot-stuffing allegations were made against Karzai, who led preliminary results with about 55 percent of the vote. Former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah had around 28 percent.
Karzai, while acknowledging small-scale irregularities, has rubbished claims of widespread fraud as "totally fabricated".
The president made no public comment after the ECC announcement. But he did pledge Monday to "fully respect the constitutional order" in talks with UN chief Ban Ki-moon, according to a UN spokeswoman.